The subtitle of this book is “and Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements.” The Periodic Table! Chemistry! How could I possibly be completely enthralled by such a book? How could I dare give it five stars when I wasn’t able to truly understand a lot of what I read?
Because of the writing, pure and simple.
Sam Kean makes chemistry accessible for the willing-to-make-an-intellectual-effort layperson — but it’s not just the chemistry. It’s the characters BEHIND the chemistry, the stories of their discoveries and the things they overlooked. It’s about the politics and the culture and the drama of the creation of that little set of boxes that we’re all so familiar with.
I was fascinated.
I have found myself sharing little anecdotes with my (yes, young) children and my friends. I pulled out the book at dinner tonight and had to tell the story of that “disappearing spoon” to everyone at the table. I loved the history, both in our modern world and the earth itself. It feels like this knowledge is so essential to human life, that these things he is talking about are, literally, at the root of what we’re all made of and Kean is just able to share that information in an interesting and not-your-stuffy-old-professor style.
Yes, there is a lot of science in there, but don’t be scared. You can still get a lot out of the stories if you’re willing to let yourself gloss over the really deep stuff and just glean as much out of it as you can. I’m going to return my copy to the library and then buy my own, so I can read parts of it again. I liked it that much.
Rating: None. He likes the word h*ll, but that’s about it.